The Rector of ULB, Yvon Englert, maintained on Thursday morning that the award of an honorary doctorate to the film producer Ken Loach, scheduled for during the day should still go ahead. Loach had been targeted for accusations of anti-Semitism and revisionism. Englert justified the move by rejecting the accusations and by stressing the independence of his institution, the day after Charles Michel, the Prime Minister had disapproved of the university’s choice.
Mr Englert, questioned on La Première (part of the RTBF network), responded, “I am certainly in agreement” with Mr Michel when he states, as he did on Wednesday in the Great Synagogue of Brussels for the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, that anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated in any way. Charles Michel had added that this was also the case for his “alma mater” (university), which is the ULB.
Englert added, “I have no advice or indeed criticism to offer to the Prime Minister. He does what he believes to be right, but the university is highly attentive to its independence. Arguments by those in positions of authority are not arguments that can be accepted within an institution, whose emphasis is upon critical scrutiny.”
He does give assurances that his institution has examined the controversial statements made by Loach “with both complete rigour and independence” and reached the conclusion that no accusations of either revisionism or anti-Semitism could be directed at Ken Loach.
The Rector of the ULB wished to turn the question on its head saying, “Do you believe that the universities of Birmingham, Oxford, Liverpool Hope (a university in Liverpool) and the ULB flirted with the idea of anti-Semitism?”, these universities either intending to, or having already awarded an honorary doctorate to the British film-maker.
Mr Englert also warned against the willingness of some individuals to take advantage of the controversy to “turn it into a political game”, and re-affirmed the attachment of his university to the fight against anti-Semitism and xenophobia. He spoke of being saddened by the rift “which had been unwanted” within his university.
On Tuesday, at the invitation of the ULB, the film-maker had restated his condemnation of “all forms of Holocaust denial” and spoke of his shock at having to provide such clarification.